Marketing trends in mid-size nonprofits – some scary, some ok.

publication date: Apr 30, 2019
author/source: Lelia MacDonald

We recently completed research on 10 mid-size nonprofits. The purpose was to discover marketing best practices. It was interesting that after only a few marketing audits, common patterns emerged.

This article is about the best practices that mid-size nonprofits were NOT doing.

What do mid-size nonprofits not do? – and it’s worrying

1. No science

Marketing is an art and a science. Every participating charity did a good job on the art, no one did anything on the science.

Average audit results:

• Art of marketing – great

• People of marketing – ok

• Science of marketing – poor

All participants had the competence to do the analysis of the science because every mid-sized charity had one staff person with a business degree. All participants had database staff who willingly supplied the data. But no one knew what reports to ask for.

They were drowning in reports. Reports about lapsed, renewed, new donors. But it was hard to consolidate the reports to analyze strategically.

One of the hypotheses we tested in the research was to identify high-level report templates to measure profitability. In a way, I did not feel like a consultant, instead I felt like an architect. I gave “blueprints” of reports that the staff calculated themselves. Occasionally, some participants needed a confidence boost, others needed the credibility of an external consultant. But every participating mid-size charity was able to build its own infrastructure.

2. No review of donor touch points

A touch point is a point of contact a donor has with you. There are two reasons to review your touch points. It's a really good way to find any gaps in your communications. And it’s a really good way to build institutional memory, in case of employee turnover. Not one mid-size charity had reviewed their touch points.

3. No institutional memory

Every participant knew they could no longer fly by the seat of their pants, like a small charity. Many had a Brand Checklist (some addressed only visuals and fonts; some included key messages).

Results were uneven whether a charity had written down the post-analysis of each marketing experiment.

What do mid-size nonprofits not do? – but it’s ok

1. No segmentation

Every mid-size charity segmented based on donation behavior. Not one mid-size charity segmented their base by psychographics or demographics or postal code. None had the time to investigate and flag their donor database. Too busy putting out other fires.

2. No personas

Going through the exercise of writing out personas is a thought-provoking process. As a marketer, I will never publicly disparage personas – that would be professional suicide. But allow me to address the taboo: if you don’t do a segmentation because you don’t have time to flag your database, it renders personas … ahem…. a great team building exercise.

3. No reliance on volunteers

Small charities are mostly volunteer run. But once a charity claims about $70,000 per year on fundraising to the CRA, they typically have one FTE assigned and a semi-decent database. At that point, reliance on marketing volunteers and fundraising volunteers vanishes.

4. Different language

None of the participants spoke of pipelines, AIDA model, funnel, pyramids. It is unclear whether they think about these terms without the jargon or whether they don’t think about them at all. Need more research.

If you want to learn how you can build your own marketing infrastructure, check out the free white paper. It will help you self-assess whether you are doing all the right things.

Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS - a pro bono management consulting charity. For 25 years, the retired professionals at MAS have helped over 1,300 nonprofits and charities become better at governance, strategy, HR, marketing and fundraising. Contact MAS today, for free.

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